Friday, September 16, 2011

Five for the Weekend – New Productions at The Metropolitan Opera

The first opera performance I attended was a 1974 production of Wagner’s Parsifal at the Metropolitan Opera.  The cast included Jess Thomas (Parsifal), Janis Martin (Kundry), John Macurdy (Gurnemanz) and Thomas Stewart (Amfortas) with William Steinberg conducting. Opera hit me like a narcotic and I’ve been addicted ever since. The current Metropolitan Opera house in Lincoln Center opened on September 16, 1966 and I can think of no better way to honor that historic day than with recordings of operas that are receiving new productions this season.

The curtain will be raised on the new season with a gala production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena (September 26th) with Anna Netrebko singing the title role. Netrebko hasn’t recorded the complete opera but we do have Maria Callas’s legendary recording from La Scala, Milan.

You need three great singers to make Gounod’s Faust  work and the new Met production (opening November 29th ) has them: Jonas Kaufmann, René Pape and Marina Poplavskaya. They haven’t recorded the opera yet, but the trio of Franco Corelli, Nicholai Ghiaurov and Joan Sutherland has, and are not too shabby by any stretch of the imagination.

Speaking of French opera, Jules Massenet’s Manon gets the star treatment (March 26th) when Netrebko (does that woman ever rest?) sings the title role and is joined by tenor Piotr Beczala singing the role of Des Grieux. There isn’t a Netrebko Manon yet, but Angela Georghiu and Roberto Alagna are pretty steamy in this terrific recording conducted by the superb Antonio Pappano.

Tony Award-winning director Michael Grandage’s new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni debuts October 13th, but we can enjoy a golden age Don Giovanni recording now. Cesare Siepi, Lisa Della Casa, Léopold Simoneau, Rita Streitch head a star cast with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting.

Samuel Barber was commissioned to write an opera to inaugurate the new opera house. His Antony and Cleopatra featured Leontyne Price and Justino Diaz in a production directed by Franco Zeffirelli. The opera isn't performed this season, but what better way to mark the anniversary than listening to Barber's work? This recording features Christian Badea conducting soloists and the Spoleto Festival Orchestra.

--Craig Zeichner

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